Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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On Women and Work

Still loving work, so that’s a good thing. My kids are on summer break and I have imported my lovely mother from South Africa to be au pair. She is doing a stirling job: they get up around 9am, lurk in their pyjamas until lunch, eat and then head out at a leisurely pace to – depending on the weather – the library, the pool or the water playground on the banks of the Neckar. It is entirely stress-free.

It’s also stress-free for me. I waltz out of the door in the morning, knowing that all is well. If someone falls and hurts themselves (or like yesterday, get a thousand tiny splinters in their elbow), their grandmother will kiss them better and offer comfort. If someone is hungry, an appropriate snack will be found. If clothes are dirty, clean ones will be provided. If a new entertainment is required, it will be found.

But more than just providing an efficient baby-sitting service, their grandmother loves them. And what privilege it is for me to go to work knowing they are in the care of someone who loves them as much as I do.

This is the privilege women have been providing men for generations, and nowhere more than here in west Germany where an idealised form of motherhood has dominated the culture. Women stay home with their small children, punkt.

Getting back into the workplace in a meaningful way in Germany is hard. In an article in The New York Times, journalist Katrin Bennhold says that only about 14% of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6% of those with two.

Many things stop mothers going back to work fulltime: the lack of proper fulltime affordable childcare, school that close their doors at lunchtime, a tax system that subsidizes income inequality. Most of the women I know work, but it’s almost always part-time.

So if we can’t get women back into full time work, how do we get them into management?  Despite a “decade of earnest vows from the corporate sector” (including Deutsche Telekom’s very laudable voluntary goal of 30% female managers by 2015), Deutschland AG remains male-dominated: women make up 2% of corporate boards, all 30 DAX companies are run by men and there was only one woman on a supervisory board, but she recently “resigned”.

There is furious national debate about quotas. Politicians moot it, Deutschland AG pays lip services to equality but resists and the few women in high-profile positions swear that the only way to get there is merit.

Bennhold quotes German anthropologist Julia Allmendinger, author of several studies on women in the former East and West, who says that state intervention appears to be most effective in battling stereotypes. Women in east Germany – where the former Communist system established full time daycare and encouraged women the work – are more mobile, more likely to have babies and reach management positions than women in the west.

Allmendinger calls for strong legislative signals.

I do too. After all, it worked for Norway.

And now, I really must go to work.


8 Comments

Proudly South African

I haven’t lived in my home country for ten years, but I love it. I think it’s a great place, a place that’s taken a long and horrible history of repression and prejudice and has turned itself into a functioning democracy. My latest reason for being proud to be a South African is this: last week the South African parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage, becoming the first African country to do so.

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The reality is that not all South Africans are as progressive as the constitution, and that the new democracy is a young one. However, they are trying, in every way, to leave discrimination behind them. During the parliamentary debate, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said same-sex unions or same-sex marriages should be afforded similar space as heterosexual marriages “in the sunshine of democracy”.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africans should continue to engage each other in a constructive way to lead the country towards “the kind of society that we all fought for as embodied within our Constitution”.

“The challenge that we shall continue to face has to do with the fact that when we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of colour, creed, culture and sex,” she said.

Viva! Let everyone live in the sunshine of democracy …

(For more, see this.)